We began the summer with auditioning and acting basics. After sitting on the THEA Foundation's performance scholarship panel, I know the majority of high school students aren't taught auditioning skills. I also know the majority of high school students (at least in Arkansas) learn to act through scene work rather than learning acting technique. In fact, only students from two of the schools represented (Bentonville and Little Rock's Parkview) raised hands to indicate familiarity with the acting technique covered when polled. (This may be due to Arkansas' requirement that drama teachers certify in speech rather than theatre--two very different disciplines.) Therefore, I felt it imperative to cover the concepts of goal, obstacle, tactics, and expectations in order to insure a common vocabulary.
During the second week, we explored avant garde theatre movements such as Dadaism and The Happenings in preparation for AGS's Happening--an annual inter-disciplinary arts event. Under the theme of "Weathering the Storm," we collaborated with visual arts students using slow motion pantomime scenes, multimedia images and sound, an interactive rain storm, and the deconstruction of our "set" to indicate the various emotions experienced during extreme natural events such as tornadoes.
This left us with two weeks. I LOVE devising. Anyone who knows anything about devising knows there's NEVER enough time, but two weeks is NOT enough time. We charged the small groups of students with devising a ten minute play inspired by the Arcade Fire song of their choice. Though I definitely don't think a lot of the students initially bought into the concept, they created really cool work in spite of our EXTREME devising time period.
As an educator, I leave this experience feeling very conflicted. I am ultimately very happy with the students' final work; however, it was incredibly stressful to get it there. Due to our shortened time period, Christina and I couldn't guide students through questions to discover the holes in their scripts. We had to be very direct with feedback which inspired quite a bit of resistance. In spite of our best efforts to explain our transition from facilitators to directors (which is a major part of the devising process) and to talk them through their scripts' issues, many students felt we squashed their ideas. Ultimately, I believe the success of the show led them to forgive us, but this one really hurt in the process.
bell hooks discusses how learning is often painful, and I would argue that pain is felt on both sides of the learning--teacher and student. As I prepare for my next devising experience at Hendrix College in the fall, I feel newly charged to insure the students bond as an ensemble, lead through questions rather than directives, and maintain positivity in the face of the inevitable frustration that is part of the devising process. As I told my AGS students, though, I believe it is the pain of that frustration that makes the joy so much more powerful. Devising is incredibly hard work that stretches acting, writing, movement, improvisation, designing, and directing skills. And THAT is why I still believe it is one of the most holistic, rewarding experiences in theatre.